Friday, September 23, 2016
FAVORITE SEDONA FALL COLOR HIKES
Right about the same time when the aspens of Arizona's mountain climes have passed their fall color prime, the high desert forests around Sedona are just about ready to peak. Although there are dozens of Sedona-area trails with great autumn leaf viewing, the West Fork of Oak Creek gets most of the love.
With its sound-bouncing russet canyon walls, cascading water and brilliant stand of maples, it's no wonder hikers make a beeline to this hot spot in October.
Although it's arguably the top fall color spot in the state, it will cost you ten bucks to get in and if you arrive later than 8 a.m., you'll probably have to wait around for a parking space.
It's worth the money and the wait, so go ahead and get that one out of your system. Then move on to these other Red Rock Country canyons where you can soak up the eye candy in quieter, gentler surroundings.
Unlike some Sedona routes that have been worn smooth by love, this one feels raw and remote. Tucked into weather scoured hinterlands of Red Rock Secret Canyon Wilderness, the moderate hike rambles through classic high desert flora before ducking into the damp, upper reaches of Bear Sign Canyon. The color show here is courtesy of mustard-colored Gambel oaks, lemony Canyon grape vines, russet sycamores and shocks of crimson sumac scrambled among forests of Arizona cypress and juniper scrub. Actual bear sightings are rare, but signs of their foraging are common along the trail. The hike can be done as a 6-mile out-and-back or as a 7.2-mile loop with David Miller and Secret Canyon Trails. Elevation range is 4,880 to 5,640 feet.
From the "Y" intersection of State Routes 179 and 89A in Sedona go left (toward Cottonwood) and continue 3.2 miles to Dry Creek Road. Turn right, go 2 miles to Vultee Arch Road (Forest Road 152), hang a right and continue 4.5 miles to the Dry Creek #52 trailhead located past the Vultee Arch parking loop on the left. A high clearance vehicle is required on FR 152.
In a woodsy bend where Oak Creek swerves around Cathedral Rock, willows and cottonwoods arch over the steel blue waterway, caressing the flow that reflects autumn foliage in syrupy whirlpools. To reach the water from the trailhead, follow a 0.3-mile access path along a combo of constructed rock stairs and slick red sandstone marked by basket cairns to the Cathedral Rock/Templeton junction sign. Straight ahead is a short (0.4 mile), semi-technical rock scramble leading to two nice vista points----optional, but not this hike. Instead, head right and follow Templeton, which clings to a rugged, yucca cluttered slope. After about a half-mile, the path swerves for first views of Oak Creek and its flood plains. Here, the route makes an easy but edgy descent to the forested color frenzy along the waterway. A kaleidoscope of massive sycamore, cottonwood, of alder, sumac, willow, walnut and countless shrubs (beware of poison ivy) glow like beacons among cypress and junipers with a backdrop of rusty cliffs to boot. Along the next half-mile, the trail stays by the water exposing countless root-tangled coves and shady spots to relax in this high-desert oasis.
From Interstate 17, take the Sedona/Oak Creek exit 298. Turn left (west) and continue 11 miles on State Route 179 to the traffic circle at Back O’ Beyond Road near milepost 310. Veer left and go 0.6 mile on Back O’ Beyond to the Cathedral Rock trailhead on the left.
Already a hiker favorite for its spectacular geology and soul tingling vortex virtues, the haunting trip through Boynton Canyon also brims with autumnal color beginning in mid-October.
You'll need to hike a few miles through sunny yucca and manzanita before reaching the mouth of the canyon where a frenzy of maple, hoptree, alder and oak trees that sway in gorge-fueled breezes appear as animated watercolors and stained glass. The 7.4-miles roundtrip hike climbs from 4,500 to 5,050 feet, ending in a box canyon wrapped in red sandstone walls soaring hundreds of feet overhead.
Getting there: From the traffic circle at State Routes 179 and 89A in Sedona go left (toward Cottonwood) and continue 3.2 miles to Dry Creek Road. Turn right onto Dry Creek Road (Forest Road 152C) go 3 miles to Boynton Canyon Road, turn left and proceed another 0.3 miles to the parking lot on the right. Roads are paved. FEE: Red Rock Pass--$5 per vehicle is required
A community of pinion pines, juniper and assorted cacti at the trailhead belie what lies ahead on Secret Canyon Trail. Epic views of Sedona’s red rock landscape dominate the first 1.75 miles of this 11-mile roundtrip hike before the trail makes a sharp westward swerve at the mouth of the canyon. From here, the route leaves the shade-less chaparral plunging into a stream bed where torrential storm runoff and blowing dust have carved bizarre sculptures in the sandstone escarpments flanking the path. Residual pools of water stand at the bases of moisture-hungry cottonwoods with heart-shaped, lemony leaves.
Near the 5-mile point, the trail enters “the narrows”, a series of slick-rock corridors hemmed in by a vertical fortification of sandstone with clusters of blood-red maples and rusty-orange oaks bursting from the rubble-strewn canyon floor. Beyond this point, the trail degrades into a quagmire of scree and undergrowth, which is why most hikers make the narrows their turnaround point. However, those with good route-finding skills can opt to scramble, squeeze and scoot along a sketchy footpath for another half-mile. Elevation range is 4,500 to 5,100 feet.
From the traffic circle at State Routes 179 and 89A in Sedona, go left (toward Cottonwood) and go 3.2 miles to Dry Creek Road. Turn right and go 2 miles to Vultee Arch Road (Forest Road 152). Turn right and continue 3.4 miles to the trailhead on the left. A high clearance vehicle is required on FR 152.
Tame by comparison to some of the aforementioned destinations, the 5-mile trail system at Red Rock State Park is neatly groomed, well signed and outfitted with wooden bridges where they cross Oak Creek. The lovely creekside foliage is augmented with family-friendly features such as a visitor center, picnic areas, restrooms and educational programs. Elevation is 3,880 to 4,080 feet.
Getting there: From the traffic circle at State Routes 179 and 89A in Sedona, go left (toward Cottonwood) on Highway 89A for 5.5 miles to Lower Red Rock Loop Road and follow the signs 3.3 miles to Red Rock State Park. The park is open 7 days 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.. Entry fee is $7 for adults, $4 for youth 7-13 and free for kids 0-6. Pets are not allowed.